Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal

Journal Entry 173

What activity fills you with joy? I was using that question as a writing prompt recently and my answer surprised me. I could write "golfing" and give a good argument. I would never say writing, that fills me with anxiety. I might consider "reading" although as I age, it doesn't have the same zest as when I was younger--it's hard to find something that I relish anymore. "Eating" would stand a good chance. But what I came up with is "my commonplace book." Really?

Journal Entry 172

Today Vincent Van Gogh tells me, "If one truly loves nature, one finds beauty everywhere." And I'm reminded of a conversation at last night's book club gathering. We're reading Devotions, the Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. The poet herself chose the poems from writings that span more than fifty years. The book is over 400 pages long and we read about 80 pages each month. When we gather each woman reads aloud her favorite and then we discuss it.

Last evening someone chose "Invitation" in which Oliver writes about goldfinches who have gathered to sing

Journal Entry 171

I talked with a friend yesterday who said that political events in this country and in the world were chiseling hope from her soul. She was desperate for hope and sought for signs of it with a fierce tenacity. She told me that she had attended a poetry workshop the weekend before because the poet leading it promised a sprig of hope.

It got Old Monk thinking about how she keeps resuscitating hope so it doesn't gasp a final breath. Here are a couple ways.

Journal Entry 170

“It is I,” Jesus said when he met Mary Magdalene in the garden on Easter Sunday. You can’t take those words lightly. To truly own those three words is the moment of enlightenment. Or resurrection. To say aloud, “It is I,” is to be born anew. You have emerged from the grave of family and peer expectations, from all the fake mirrors and masks, from all the false roles and fears, and stand radiant in the brilliant light of “self.” You have found yourself.

Journal Entry 169

We are approaching the first anniversary of the historic 2017 Women’s March on Washington. Old Monk is a bit disappointed that the momentum from that event—one that caught the imagination of the world—never realized its potential as an organized resistance to what ails the land.

I was reading an article on creativity and imagination in Poets & Writers Magazine that opened with these lines from the Raymond Carver poem, “Looking for Work”:

I have always wanted brook trout
for breakfast

Journal Entry 168

As I write this, Erie is recovering for a record-setting snow that dumped 84 inches on us in 5 days, beginning on Christmas Day. December is ending with a whopping 121 inches of falling white stuff. For almost 60 years I’ve prayed the psalms and canticles as part of daily monastic prayer. One of the Canticles is “The Song of the Three Young Men” from the Book of Daniel. In that story, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon put the youths in a fiery furnace for refusing to bow before the King’s image.

Journal Entry 167

The body of a woman who came with her two children to our soup kitchen washed up on the lake shore this month. She suffered severe mental illness and committed suicide. This was the first tragic death at the kitchen for two new staff members, Breanna and Karen.

Journal Entry 166

Since I’m a big fan of Mary, Mother of God, I’m always grateful to find a new idea that intensifies the relationship. Don’t ask me why but I’ve never read anything by the German Benedictine monk Anselm Grun until this Advent—and he’s written over 300 books!!! But, lucky for me, I picked up his book, Your Light Gives Us Hope: 24 Daily Practices for Advent at the Chautauqua bookstore on a recent visit. The daily readings and practice suggestion are brief, but weighty and creative.

Journal Entry 165

I am still conversing with the Japanese Buddhist nun and poet Rengetsu, “Lotus Moon.” I read one of her poems and then respond.

Pouring rain,
Evening gloom,
In the mountain paddies:
Other than a scarecrow
Not a soul around.
—Rengetsu

Pouring rain,
Morning sadness,
On the inner-city street:
Other than the young prostitute
Other than the slow-moving car
Other than the feral black cat
Only Old Monk and her beads.
—Old Monk

++

Journal Entry 164

Best-selling author Cheryl Strayed said that the two keys to a happy life are perspective and gratitude. And Harvard researcher Shawn Achor claims that if, for twenty-one straight days, you practice saying three things you are grateful for when you wake up every morning, you become a more optimistic person. You cannot repeat what you are grateful for, each morning you must be thankful for something new. This morning Old Monk is grateful for Cheryl and Shawn’s insights.

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